We Were Made for Heaven

Saturday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

November 23, 2019

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Lk20_36 eternal life

Today, in Mercy, Maccabees gives us a colorful account of the defeat, dismay and ultimate death of Antiochus IV, persecutor of the Jews. The account, like most of the Books of Maccabees, is primarily historical, not spiritual or theological. But threaded through the books, of course, is the underlying biblical orientation that God-Yahweh is present and active in all life’s circumstances.

Today’s passage has even pagan Antiochus considering how God/Fate has brought him to judgement- to “payback” time:

But I now recall the evils I did in Jerusalem,
when I carried away all the vessels of gold and silver
that were in it, and for no cause
gave orders that the inhabitants of Judah be destroyed.
I know that this is why these evils have overtaken me;
and now I am dying, in bitter grief, in a foreign land.


Our Gospel repeats an incident we prayed with just the Sunday before last, in which some Sadducees question Jesus about marriage laws and the afterlife. Their questioning reminds me of modern songwriter Eric Clapton’s musings in his song:

Tears in Heaven – Eric Clapton

Jesus doesn’t sing to the Sadducees, as far as I know. Rather, he answers them this way:

Those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age
and to the resurrection of the dead
neither marry nor are given in marriage.
They can no longer die,
for they are like angels;
and they are the children of God
because they are the ones who will rise.


So for us today, the questions and concerns of both Antiochus and the Sadducees might lead us to consider how we feel about the “afterlife”.

Do you ever wonder what heaven will be like? Will we see our beloveds once again? Will we see our “unbeloveds” too and what will that be like!! Do you calculate whether or not you’ll even make the cut through the Pearly Gates?

When I think about heaven these two promises of Jesus sustain, comfort and animate me. Maybe you’ll consider their power too as you pray today.

I have come that you may have life,
and have it to the full.
John 10:10


Eternal life is this, that they know you,
the only true God,
and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.
John 17:3

Music: That You May Have Life – André Crouch
(Lyrics below)

(I come that you might have life more abundantly)
(I come that you might have life through eternity)
I didn’t come to condemn the world
nor to shame you for your wrong no no
but I came to mend your broken heart and give your heart a song
(I come to give you life more abundantly – more abundantly)
Your life without Christ
is like a star that will never never shine
It’s like a winding road that goes nowhere
Woah but Jesus said (I come) I come (to give you life) to give you life (more)
(I come) I come (to give you joy) to give you joy
(I come to give you life more abundantly ee ee ee ee more abundantly)
but Jesus said (I come to give you life more) oh I left my home in glory
(I come) I come (to give you joy) just to bring you joy
(I come) I love you I love you (to give you life) and I want to give you life
(more abundantly) more abundantly
Mmmm (ee ee ee ee) more abundantly (more abundantly)
People all over the world (all I want to do is give you life)
listen to the LORD speaking right now
(more abundantly ooh ooh ooh ooh) people all over the world
(all I want to do is give you joy more abundantly ooh ooh ooh ooh)
(all I want to do is give you life . . 

A Transformed Heart

Memorial of Saint Cecilia, Virgin and Martyr

November 22, 2019

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Saint_Cecilia
Poster of fresco after John Dryden’s poem “A Song for Saint Cecilia’s Day

(Following in a second post will be John Dryden’s A Song for St. Cecilia’s Day, 1687)

Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the feast of St. Cecilia who is the patron of musicians. A Christian martyr of the 2nd century, she is one of seven women in addition to the Blessed Virgin mentioned by name in the Canon of the Mass. Her deep spirituality led to a sacred intimacy with God which gave her the faith and courage to endure martyrdom.

Both readings today speak about the Temple. After the victory of Judas Maccabeus, the Jewish people restore their Temple with exuberant celebration, recognizing it as a symbol of God’s Presence with them.

In today’s Gospel. Jesus also “restores” the Temple by driving out the merchants who have diverted the Temple’s purpose as representative of God’s Presence.

Our bodies too are temples of the Holy Spirit.

Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians tells us:

Do you not know
that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit,
who is in you, whom you have received from God?
You are not your own; you were bought at a price.

Through our Baptism into the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ, the Holy Spirit dwells in us. We are called to be transformed by this Indwelling. As in any relationship, this transformation is accomplished through transparency, communication, listening and acting on behalf of the Beloved.

Geoffrey Brown, a deeply spiritual poet, offers us this imaginative image of waiting for and welcoming, as Cecilia did, the transformative Presence of God in our lives:

I must remember to go down to the heart cave
And sweep it clean, make it warm, with fire on the hearth
And candles in their niches
The pictures on the walls glowing with quiet lights

I must remember to go down to the heart cave
And make the bed with the quilt from home
Strew rushes on the floor
And hang lavender and sage from the corners

I must remember to go down to the heart cave
And be there when you come.

Music:  Marc-Antoine Charpentier – Caecilia Virgo et Martyr

 

For more on Charpentier’s magnificent works, click here

Charpentier’s Histoires Sacrées, or sacred histories, are in reality, dramatic religious scenes taken from the bible or the lives of the saints and set to music.

Cæcilia, virgo et martyr octo vocibus dates from around 1677. This tells the story of St Cecilia, the patron saint of music and musicians, and an early Christian martyr. Cecilia’s husband and brother are executed for converting to Christianity, with Cecilia following shortly afterwards. Perhaps the highpoint of this piece is the final Guay – Nolite flere fideles where firstly the angels claim that Cecilia has been ‘crowned by them’, before the rest of the chorus sing ‘Come, then, let us sing and exult in Cecilia’s victory.’ Quite wonderful in the way it incorporates Cecilia’s position among musicians. (Stuart Sillitoe)

Vultures Forecasted!

Friday of the Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time

November 15, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our scripture message is blunt. If yesterday’s sweet words from Wisdom were like “rich toffee for the spirit”, today’s are more like a double shot of bourbon for the mind.

toffeebourbon

Basically our first reading says “Yes”- creation is magnificent, but not as magnificent as its Creator! You, learned humans, how could you have gotten stuck only half-way to that truth? How did you end up making gods from the very things that were supposed to show you the one true God?

In our Gospel, Jesus speaks even more starkly. He describes the “end times” when “one will be taken and the other left”. That reading  always scared me as a child and, to be honest, still scares me a little. The popular “rapture literature” has monopolized on that fear. Nobody likes the idea of their buddy, sitting right beside them eating ice cream, suddenly disappearing, right?

vultureAnd I guess Jesus actually was trying to strike a little healthy fear into his listeners too. He told them the vultures were already gathering. It’s late in the game. Get your act together.

Early Christians thought a lot about the end times. They expected them to come quickly after the Resurrection. Well, 2000 years later, our obsession may have cooled somewhat. 

Nevertheless, an end will come to this life as we know it. And wouldn’t it be a shame if we had spent our precious worship on false and distracting gods like money, fame, power, luxury and self-aggrandizement?

“Wouldn’t it be a shame”, as one of our dear Sisters once said, “to come to the end of your life and realize you had missed the whole point?”

 Music: One True God – Mark Harris

Want to Shine?

Memorial of Saint Josaphat, Bishop and Martyr

November 12, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, as we remember St. Josephat, our readings instruct us on what it means to be God’s faithful servant.

Josephat was. 

A 17th century saint born in Lithuania, Josephat was a humble and self-sacrificing Bishop. But his life was embroiled in the social and religious unrest subsequent to the Union of Brest.

(The Union of Brest, was the 1595-96 decision of the Ruthenian Orthodox Church eparchies (dioceses) in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth to break relations with the Eastern Orthodox Church and to enter into communion with, and place itself under the authority of, the Roman Catholic Pope. – Wikipedia)

To a much greater degree than it would today, such a decision carried immense political import, creating the deadly oppositions to which Josephat ultimately lost his life.

Read Josephat’s story here.


Our first reading today, which is so familiar from the funerals we’ve attended, reminds us that all our lives will eventually return to God (hopefully not so dramatically as Josephat’s did).

Our Gospel too enjoins us to live humble, grateful lives of service, recognizing that everything we have and are belongs to God:

Is the Master grateful to that servant
because he did what was commanded?

So should it be with you.
When you have done all you have been commanded, say,
“We are unprofitable servants;
we have done what we were obliged to do.”

If we do this, we shall be blessed as described in Wisdom:

Those who trust in him shall understand truth,
and the faithful shall abide with him in love:
Because grace and mercy are with his holy ones,
and his care is with his elect.

Wisdom3_7 sparksJPG


These are sobering but necessary thoughts. As I write today (on November 11th), I think of the humble servant Catherine McAuley who died on this date in 1841. She has certainly sent sparks through the stubble. On this Veterans’ Day, I think of all who have died in war. I think of our Sister-veterans, Sister Bernard Mary Buggelein and Sister Dorothy Hillenbrand who served in WWII and now rest in our community cemetery. All of their lives have been called into the great embrace of our Eternal God. May all our lives inspire one another to humble service and praise.


Music: The Souls of the Righteous – Geraint Lewis, sung by Jesus Choir- Cambridge

The souls of the righteous are in the hands of God,
and the pain of death shall not touch them.
To the eyes of the foolish, they seemed to perish,
but they are in peace.

Wisdom 3:1-3

Dare to Follow the Way

Memorial of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, Virgin and Doctor of the Church

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we celebrate St. Thérèse, popularly venerated as The Little Flower. She propagated a spirituality that has become known as “The Little Way”. 


Rev. John F. Russell, O.Carm. describes the Little Way like this:
The Little Way is an image that tries to capture St. Thérèse’s understanding of being a disciple of Jesus Christ, of seeking holiness of life in the ordinary and the everyday.
Saint Therese based her “little way” on two fundamental convictions: 

  • God shows love by mercy and forgiveness
  • She could not be perfect in following the Lord. 

Both our readings today also talk about a “way”.
Zechariah has a vision of all nations following the way to a New Jerusalem. 

Thus says the LORD of hosts:
In those days ten men of every nationality,
speaking different tongues, shall take hold,

yes, take hold of every Jew by the edge of his garment and say,
“Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.”

Dare

In our Gospel, Jesus begins his way on his final journey. He knows now that the way will be through suffering and death yet, He dared…

When the days for Jesus to be taken up were fulfilled,
he resolutely set his face toward Jerusalem…

Grace makes a way in our lives too. As with Thérèse, the ancient Jews, and Jesus, our particular way will unfold before us through prayer and a listening heart. It is the way of love that leads away from selfishness to God and God-in-Others.

Rumi’s poem captures it:

The way of love is not
a subtle argument. 

The door there
is devastation. 

Birds make great sky-circles
of their freedom.
How do they learn it?

They fall, and falling,
they’re given wings.

(In a later post today, I will share a poem by Amy Lowell which I feel could describe “the journey “ — Christ’s, mine, yours… and perhaps offer further food for prayer.)

Today, we pray for the courage and freedom to follow the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Music: from the musical Godspell – By My Side

The song conveys the desire of Jesus’s disciples, all but Judas, to accompany him on his Way. They were not perfect – but they dared. As we consider our lives, have we dared? What “pebbles” have we willingly “put in our shoes” to follow Jesus?

 

 

Joys and Sorrows Mingled

Saturday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time

September 28, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we begin a few weeks of readings from the minor prophets – Zechariah being today’s writer.  We also continue with Luke’s Gospel which will take us through to the season of Advent.

The combination of readings today brought to my mind a treasured and bittersweet quote from our beloved founder:

catherine_joys

Zechariah writes for a community with a foot in both worlds – joys and sorrows. They are freed from captivity but burdened with its harsh memory. They have committed in hope to the rebuilding of the temple, but they are filled with doubts about their ability to deliver. They have a plan for their restoration, but realize that God’s plan is beyond their imagination. They see a protected, walled-in future. God sees a “Jerusalem” without walls, circled only by the fire of God’s love.

Zechariah tells them to let go and fall into God’s Imagination, no matter how scary that might be for them:

People will live in Jerusalem as though in open country,
because of the multitude of men and beasts in her midst.
But I will be for her an encircling wall of fire, says the LORD,
and I will be the glory in her midst.

In our Gospel, Jesus has begun to gently hint that the disciples’ future may not be as they would like to imagine. At this point in the Gospel story, joys are running pretty high- lots of miracles, crowds growing, the awesomeness of the Transfiguration still lighting up their dreams.

But Jesus drops a little reality, a little sorrow into the mix:

Pay attention to what I am telling you.
The Son of Man is to be handed over to men.

The disciples don’t fully comprehend the warning. It is too much for them to take. We understand, don’t we? Is there anything harder to swallow than sorrow, loss, the crash of a bright dream?

Remembering Zechariah ‘s words may strengthen us when the mix of sorrow seems too much for us:

But I will be for her an encircling wall of fire, says the LORD,
and I will be the glory in her midst. …
Sing and rejoice, O daughter Zion!
See, I am coming to dwell among you, says the LORD.

Music: Where Joy and Sorrow Meet – Ultimate Tracks

Only Son of a Widowed Mother

Tuesday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

September 17, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Paul gives the Church a job description for bishops. I’m not even going to, as they say, “go there”. Just read it. Just pray over your own thoughts.

The Gospel story of the widow of Nain is where my prayer rests today. Reading it, I remember standing by a large walkway window at the Louisville Airport on a sweltering July day in 2005.

Down on the heat-softened tarmac, a small bevy of soldiers stood at attention. Slowly, a flag-draped casket was lowered into their waiting arms. Just to the side, a huddled family, waited as well. Two children clung to either side of their young mother. An older couple stood behind her, hands gentled on her shoulders.

At the window, several other travelers gathered in silence. A few teenage boys removed their inverted baseball caps when they noticed a distinguished older gentleman stand tall and hold a salute.

No one who witnessed that brief ceremony will ever forget it. The grief, reverence and astonishment at life’s fragility emblazoned the moment on every witnessing heart.

nain

When Jesus passed the gates of Nain on that ancient morning, he had a like experience. He saw this “only son of a widowed mother”. Once again, shaken to his roots with compassion –splancha, he pulled heaven down to heal heart-breaking loss.

How I wished Jesus were flying out of Louisville that day in 2005! But then I realized He was there. The miracle was hidden, but still real. The Divine Compassion flowed through me, through the reverent gathering beside me, through the soldiers’ honoring arms, through the long prayerful memory we would all forever share.

That young man from Nain was raised from the dead… for a while. He, like all of us, eventually died. The miracle was not about him and his life. The miracle was the visible sign of God’s infinite compassion for us – God’s “feeling-with-us” in all our experiences. That compassion, whether miraculously visible or not, is always with us.

It just took a different form that day in Louisville.

military funeral

Music:  I was reminded of this consoling country song for today’s prayer. Like much country music, it hits the heart where it matters, even if the theology is a little frayed.

God Only Cries – written by Tim Johnson, sung here by Diamond Rio
Lyrics below

On an icy road one night
A young man loses his life
They marked the shoulder with a cross
An’ his family gathers round
On a piece of Hallowed ground
Their hearts are heavy with their loss
As the tears fall from their eyes
There’s one who’ll always sympathise

God only cries for the living
‘Cause it’s the living that are left to carry on
An’ all the angels up in Heaven
They’re not grieving because they’re gone
There’s a smile on their faces
‘Cause they’re in a better place than…
They’ve ever known.

God only cries for the living
‘Cause it’s the living that are so far from home

It still makes me sad
When I think of my Grand-dad
I miss him each and every day
But I know the time will come
When my own grandson
Wonders why I went away
Maybe we’re not meant to understand
Till we meet up in the Promised Land

By your Holy Cross, O Lord…

Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Saturday, September 14, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we turn our hearts to the mystery of the Holy Cross.

Let’s face it. Most of us would prefer a life without ANY suffering. So how does the Cross help us understand that we will never have that kind of life?

The mystery of suffering is integral to all life and transformation. The ability to live and deepen with that mystery doesn’t happen in the mind. It happens in the soul.

The desert Israelites in our first reading don’t get it. They think an angry God is fed up with their complaining and so sends snakes to bite them and cause them suffering.

Not really.

Indeed, snakes have bitten them. But a loving God tells them: Hold up a symbol of my love. It will strengthen you to pass through your suffering because I am always in relationship with you.

cross_mcauley
The deep love of the Holy Cross was the sacred gift of Catherine McAuley to her Mercy Family. Let us listen to her counsel.

Paul, in the powerful passage from Philippians, takes us much deeper into the heart of this mystery. He tells us how Jesus put on human suffering to show us how suffering is transformed by the love it attempts to overcome.

Paul says that by becoming obedient – by listening – to the deep mystery of suffering and death in his life, Jesus shows us how to hear the whisper within it … the whisper of eternal life that can only be found when we pass through that awesome mystery in transcendent and enduring faith.

John suggests to us that, in some way that we cannot here understand, the mystery of suffering reveals something of the nature of God. It is an overwhelming, incomprehensible revelation that the Father could convey to us only in the visible gift of Jesus Christ.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him might not perish
but might have eternal life.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,
but that the world might be saved through him. 

Praying with these deep considerations, we are invited to enter “the mind of Jesus”. May we wholeheartedly respond with today’s Alleluia verse:

We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you,
because by your Cross you have redeemed the world.

Music: Philippians Canticle- John Michael Talbot (Lyrics below)

And if there be therefore any consolation
And if there be therefore any comfort in his love
And if there be therefore any fellowship in spirit
If any tender mercies and compassion

We will fulfill His joy
And we will be like-minded
We will fulfill His joy
We can dwell in one accord
And nothing will be done
Through striving or vainglory
We will esteem all others better than ourselves

This is the mind of Jesus
This is the mind of Our Lord
And if we follow Him
Then we must be like-minded
In all humility
We will offer up our love

Though in the form of God
He required no reputation
Though in the form of God
He required nothing but to serve
And in the form of God
He required only to be human
And worthy to receive
Required only to give

This is the mind of Jesus
This is the mind of Our Lord
And if we follow Him
Then we must be like-minded
In all humility
We will offer up our love
In all humility
We will offer up our love

A Passion Like Christ’s

Memorial of the Passion of Saint John the Baptist

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/082919.cfm

Today, in Mercy, we commemorate the Passion of John the Baptist who, besides Mary, was the greatest saint embracing both the Old and the New Testaments.

When I was young, the memorial was simply referred to as “The Beheading of John the Baptist”. The term “passion” captures its meaning so much more clearly:

  • it inclines us to realize the similarities between John’s passion and death and that of Jesus.
  • it shifts the power of the event to John, who chose his fate by the courage of his witness, rather than to see Herod, the “beheader”, as the agent of the story.

John’s whole prophetic life was part of his “passion”. It inevitably led him to this ultimate confrontation with evil.

Walter Bruggemann, in his transformational book “The Prophetic Imagination” writes about prophets. He indicates that prophets emerge in the context of “totalism” – those paralyzing systems which attempt to control and dominate all freedom and possibility.

Totalism kills ideas, hope, freedom, choice, self-determination, and creativity for the sake of controlling reality for its own advantage. Totalism is the ultimate “abusive relationship “.

Brueggemann defines the prophet as one engaged in these three tasks:

  • the prophet is clear on the force and illegitimacy of the totalism.
  • the prophet pronounces the truth about the force of the totalism that contradicts the purpose of God.
  • the prophet articulates the alternative world that God has promised, and that God is actually creating within the chaos around us.

Every age requires prophets because every age is infected with “Herods” trying to thwart God’s reign of love, mercy, truth, freedom, and joy. In our own time, the poison of totalism is quite evident in those systems fueled by racism, militarism, financial duplicity, desecration of the earth, and the sad array of other ideologies that cripple humanity.

Today, as we pray with this great saint, may we be inspired to respond to our own prophetic call – to be prophetic signs of love, mutual reverence, joy, Gospel justice,and lavish mercy for our world.

Music: I think of this song by Simon and Garfunkel as the modern day song of John the Baptist.

https://youtu.be/XgbBLKet14E

Unless…

Feast of Saint Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr

August 10, 2019

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St. Lawrence
Saint Lawrence. Mosaic from the Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kiev.

Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the feast of St. Lawrence who is noted for his love for those who were poor. Legend has it that Lawrence was demanded, before his martyrdom, to turn over the Church’s riches to the emperor Valerian. Instead, he distributed all the resources among the poor. Lawrence then gathered all these people, presenting them before Valerian with these words:

Behold in these poor persons
the treasures which I promised to show you –
these are the true treasures of the Church.

Lawrence was likely inspired by readings like today’s. In Corinthians, Paul encourages us to be cheerful givers. He says this delights God, the Giver of Divine Abundance, whom we are imitating.

John12_24 grain wheat

In our reading from John, Jesus says that only in dying to ourselves do we live – the ultimate generosity. He says that only by doing this can we truly follow him.

While these readings are clear and simple, they are so profound that we can hardly take in their message. What they ask of us is daunting! The encouragement Jesus gives us to respond to his challenge is this:

The Father will honor whoever serves me.

St. Lawrence believed and lived this promise. What about us?

Music: Before the Bread – Elizabeth Alexander

We all want our lives to be full and complete – to be “bread”. But there are many steps before the grain of wheat becomes bread, as captured in this elegant acapella canon.